This is an essay written by guest author, Allen Simmons. He has a Bachelor’s degree from Baptist Bible College and a Master of Religious Education degree from Tennessee Temple University. Allen has decades of experience studying, preaching, and teaching the Bible at several institutions including the Akron Baptist Temple, Copley Baptist Temple, and Calvary Baptist Church.
We conservative Christians tend to hand out the “cult” label pretty generously. A cult is traditionally used for a “fad” belief – usually centered around a powerfully charismatic individual whose beliefs and practices were outside what folks would consider normal or traditional. Charles Manson, Jim Jones, and the Bhagwan are all considered cult leaders and with good reason.
These kinds of people spring up wherever there are confused vulnerable peoples looking for answers in a confusing life to take advantage of the confused. Modern cult leaders don’t even have to ever meet their followers in person because of electronic media (The person or persons masquerading as “Q” comes to mind). Don’t get me wrong, the old-style sex and new age brand of cult still exist (like Nxivm), but people who can’t figure out the world system seem to be just as vulnerable to the electronic kind.
Within the bounds of people who call themselves “Christian,” the word “cult” is used to describe a broad scope of off-the-beaten-path beliefs either within the general term “Christianity” as the world would see it, or a group on the fringes of “Christianity” who are its bastard offspring. You see these latter vilified in any number of books and speeches by fundamentalists. These would include Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists and the like. Usually you can trace groups like this to strong charismatic leaders in the past who broke off from the established brands of Christianity to create a new group with their own theology and (most times) their own literature.
Sometimes “cult” is used as an insult to someone or some group the denominational hierarchy doesn’t like. For instance, I’ve heard people who believe the King James Bible is the word of God called a cult.
The words “cult” and “heretic” have become a way to brand people who disagree with you on minor doctrines even though they might agree with you on the major ones. Where should we draw the line? Hopefully, by the time you read this study, the line will clear up a bit.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am a King James Bible believing, pre-millennial, dispensational, fundamentalist, independent Baptist. To some of you I am already starting out a heretic. So be it. It is better to get these things out front. Still interested? Then let me say, this writing isn’t so much a review and vivisection of people and groups who I would label with the word “cult” as it is a discussion of true Bible based unity with other Christians or Christian groups or disunity based on the same principle.
What binds us and what divides us? Who can you fellowship with in worship and who you can’t with a good conscience? The answer might surprise you or validate your choices. I don’t know you well enough to guess, but I hope this study is valuable to you. May the Lord use it for His glory.
Verse 1 – “Ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called”
You aren’t called to any vocation unless you are first saved. If you are saved, you are part of the plan. You are one of God’s children. You have a part in His kingdom . You have a job to do corresponding to your place in His body (Romans 8:5; Galatians 4:6; I Corinthians 12; John 17:21; Romans 14:17; Colossians 1:13).
Local churches, ideally, should be made up of saved people who have joined together in worship, but I’ve never seen an ideal church in my life. It is not always readily apparent if a person is saved or not. This is why a lot of people who have been in church a long time, maybe even have grown up in a Christian house and have made a trip down to the altar and may even be working in a ministry, all of a sudden reverse course and reject all things having to do with God. I link these people to the second group in the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:5 and 20-21) and perhaps are tares in the parable of the tares (Matthew 13:24-30). I perceive a lot of churches these days are full of tares. Unsaved people going through the motions combined with a bunch of weak Christians make up too much of the modern church population.
“The vocation wherewith ye are called” is whatever ministry the Lord wants you to do. We all have at least one vocation. This can be anything from pastoring to a support function. When you are in a local church just about anything you do to help the church function can be considered a ministry. Someone has to clean the building, cook the food, change the light bulbs, maintain the song books, run the sound system, make sure the building is heated, etc.. If you can’t preach, you may be able to see that the preacher’s mike works.
“Walk worthy” has to do with living for Christ so that “whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31).
Verse 2 – “With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love;”
This has to do with the relationship that you have with God through Jesus Christ. That relationship is reflected in your attitude toward your fellow believers.
Notice meekness and longsuffering is on the list of fruits of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23. Notice impatience and pushing your weight around is not.
See also verse 26: “Lowliness” is the opposite of “vain glory”.
Remember Jeremiah 9:23-24? “Thus saith the LORD, let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the LORD which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the LORD.”
Verse 3 – “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
“Endeavoring” means you are making an earnest attempt to do what the Lord wants you to do.
“To keep the unity of the Spirit.” See Ephesians 2:11-22. If you are saved, you are part of the unity. If you are not, you are verse 12: “without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and without God in the world.”
“In the bond of peace.” The body isn’t supposed to fight with itself. It is to work with efficiency, grace, coordination and skill like a trained athlete. If you are laughing uncontrollably right now while visualizing your own church, I understand. Remember I said “supposed.” Once again we are discussing things that should be, not things that probably are.
Basis for unity: Unity is conditioned on whether or not you can agree on these things. These are the majors. We sometimes say people shouldn’t “major on the minors”, but some of the minors seem to graduate with every sect, every split, and every disagreement. Think of it this way, if someone disagrees with your own personal convictions about something, the LORD says the issues to follow are the issues you can form a bond of unity around.
Verse 4 – “There is one body, and one Spirit;”
As in all of these things, this is controversial, and the definition is responsible for many a church split and many an organizational split.
Most of the problem in the fundamentalist circles is over the question: ”is there a universal church or not?”
Some say there is a general body made up of all saved people living and dead that will finally all meet in the sky at the Rapture. (That is different from the Roman Catholic version. They believe they ARE the universal church; the word “Catholic” literally means “universal.” These people seem to like denominations although not all of them do.
Some say there is no such animal as a universal church. There is only the local church. This naturally causes them to be gathered in individual sovereign groups that have an aversion to denominations.
Some of them will recognize like-minded people of other churches to the extent that they can exchange preachers between them and recognize the baptisms performed as legit. They also sometimes band together in loose associations for purposes such as missionary boards and forming colleges. That being said: Some of them totally isolate themselves from other churches. These can get rather cultish sometimes (Think Westboro Baptist Church. They made the news for picketing servicemen’s funerals and gave unnecessary fuel for the Christ haters).
To these folks, the phrases “the church” or “the Body of Christ” mean “the individual local church”.
There are those, like me, who find no conflict with either idea. I think of it kinda like a Taco Bell. There is Taco Bell the corporation and Taco Bell the individual restaurant where the food is sold and the customers are served. I believe each church should be a sovereign franchise. The local church does the work. The corporation ensures the uniform faith we all need to operate so we don’t go off the deep end and become cults ourselves. I get along fine with both groups as long as they agree with me on the sovereignty of the local church. Denominations have some benefits, but they seem to corrupt at the top pretty fast and infect the whole organization.
Usually, as long as most of the other major issues are intact, there can still be united worship with members of the two groups. If you are totally convicted about it, check out the statement of faith of a church. You can usually do this online anymore without a lot of trouble.
Just keep in mind a local church is a congregation of people, not the building they are identified with. That fact seems to have gotten lost in time.
There are a lot of spirits:
- There is “ the spirit of man” (Ecclesiastes 3:21; Zechariah 12:1)
- There is “the spirit of the beast” ( Ecclesiastes 3:21)
- There is “the unclean spirit” (Zechariah 13:2)
- There is “the Spirit of God” (John 4:24)
The one we can legitimately unify or divide over is the Spirit of God.
We can’t unify in worship with groups or individuals who have a radically different idea about the Holy Spirit than we do. Groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses who believe the Holy Spirit is just a force or the Unitarians who don’t believe in the Trinity are out.
The Charismatics certainly believe in the Holy Spirit, but some folks hyper-separate the Trinity so they really end up with 3 separate and distinct Gods (which is, in my opinion, closer to the Hindu way of looking at it than the Biblical). Now, I understand. One of the toughest doctrines of the whole Bible to “get” is the Trinity so I am inclined to cut people some slack on the subject. However, I’ve heard the Charismatics abuse the Holy Spirit to the extent where, if I took what they were saying seriously, He gives them extra-Biblical revelations, does things that God would frown on, and inspires false prophecy, false leading, false and misleading “signs,” outright lies (see the “prosperity gospel”) and other nonsense made up by preachers who steal from the Old Testament and apply it wrongly to themselves.
Do they preach and teach the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit you believe? Some get it partly right.. Some don’t. Be aware and be cautious.
Verse 5 – “One Lord, one faith; one baptism.”
If your “one Lord” is the Lord Jesus Christ, we are good on this point (Hebrews 1; Philippians 2:9-11; Revelations 19:16).
See what people do and not just what they say.
Look at Matthew 15:7 – “Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoreth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.”
Who or what do people and groups put as Lord over the Lord Jesus Christ? A man? The “Holy Spirit”? (…a warped version that is. The real Holy Spirit honors the Son: see I Corinthians 12:3; John 16:13). There is a lot of idolatry within today’s churches.
There are churches who think Jesus was just a man/great teacher and put Him on the same level as men like Gandhi or Buddha or even Martin Luther King Jr.
There are churches that try to subordinate Him to a female goddess like a modified Mary or Sophia.
Some people deny His existence, but still want to steal the humanistic elements out of what He taught.
Some people use their vain imagination to change Him into something more attune to their own invented message like: Social Justice ministers, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Luciferians, Gnostics and other “New Age” style beliefs, Hinduism (they think He is an avatar of their own god Vishnu), a space alien…The list stretches out of sight. Suffice it to say, you should find it impossible to unify yourself with any person or group that disagrees with you on this point. That doesn’t mean we can’t be civil, but anyone who doesn’t believe Jesus Christ is the Lord we are to rally around and worship isn’t Christian.
This is not the word “faith” as in the strong belief that you act on. This refers to a body of doctrines as in “the Christian faith” or “the Jewish faith.” There are many faiths. If I don’t share yours, we can’t unify in worship.
A faith has numerous elements in it. Our Christian faith is described mostly in the writings of Paul (II Thessalonians 3:4- 9, 14; Galatians 1:6-12; I Corinthians 4:15-16; Philippians 3:16-21).
Some folks don’t follow Paul’s teachings. Some add Old Testament stuff. Some allegorize everything. Some are “red letter” Christians who believe only the words of Jesus in the gospels. The rule is: if Paul says its ok for the church, it’s ok. As the above verses state: Jesus set him up as the authority for the Christian faith.
If a person or group can’t or won’t “rightly divide the word of truth” (II Timothy 2:15), there will be variations of the faith. Fellowship rides on the severity of the differences.
We are pre-millennial. If a person or group is not, there will be differences in the faith, especially regarding prophesy.
Of course, if you aren’t even in the realm of “Christianity” you are more the candidate for evangelism than someone I would even consider unifying with in the bond of faith.
There are seven Biblical baptisms and some that aren’t but are still called “baptism” by unscriptural people. Over the centuries, the answer to the question of what the one baptism is could get you tortured and killed! It is always a sore spot between various “Christian” groups including disagreements between fundamentalist and conservative groups.
The seven baptisms are as follows:
- The baptism of the children of Israel in the cloud during the Exodus (I Corinthians 10:1-2). This is not a candidate for the “one baptism.”
- The baptism of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:11; John 1:31). The mode is water baptism by emersion in water. The purpose was to manifest Jesus Christ to Israel. It was a public display that visually demonstrated the repentance of the people who confessed their sins. It was done in an Old Testament setting (The New Testament didn’t begin until after the death and resurrection of Christ. See Hebrews 9:16-17). Considering people who received this Baptism were re- baptized in the book of Acts (Acts 19:1-6), we can confidently cross this one off the list.
- The baptism of Christ’s death on the cross (Romans 6:3- 5). This is considered a baptism by the Lord. It was what Jesus was speaking of when He talked to James and John in Matthew 20:22-23. We use baptism as an illustration when we baptize people: “Buried in the likeness of His death, raised in the likeness of His resurrection.” By this we repudiate sprinkling or pouring as Biblical modes of baptism. You don’t bury someone by standing him up against a tree and throwing dirt at him. We could easily unify under this one.
- Acts 2:38. This has similarities to John’s baptism. It is a special baptism that allowed the Jews to repent of what they did to Jesus. Notice the cry in vs 37 was “what shall WE do?” and contrast this with the cry of the Philippian jailor in Acts 16:30 – “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Paul and Silas tell the jailor to “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.”
Notice the Jews in Acts 2 were not asking the same question? Notice they did not receive the same answer? Don’t try to tell the Church of Christ folks or some of the Charismatic folks that. They think this is the “one baptism” and believe you have to be baptized according with this formula in order to be saved. We disagree with them that this is even the right water baptism for the Christian. We also contend that, as in all water baptisms, it is a believer’s baptism (the word “for” means “because” not “in order to cause”). This is the primary verse where people read salvation into baptism. Some of the people who believe in baptismal salvation have morphed into “baptism” by sprinkling or pouring vs emersion so the heresy breeds more heresy. What a mess.
- Matthew 28:18-20 – This is the Great Commission and the baptism stated here is the water baptism that Jesus commissioned us to use. The first time it is used in Scripture is in Acts 10 where the Lord intervened with Peter to send the Gospel to the Gentiles. Note the end of verse 43: “that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.” Now notice before Peter could say a word about baptism “the Holy Ghost fell on them that heard the word.” This was the Holy Spirit teaching Peter (and us) a lesson on the order of how things were supposed to go: First salvation, then baptism.
The Lord is the name of the Godhead that gets spelled out in Matthew 28. We follow the formula Jesus gave us. The baptismal formula I heard over and over at the Akron Baptist Temple was: (Name of the one being baptized), upon your profession of faith and in obedience to His command, I now baptize you my brother/sister in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Buried in the likeness of Jesus’ death – raised in the likeness of Christ’s resurrection . Walk in newness of life.” Some folks use “Lord” like Peter did in Acts 10.
It isn’t for salvation. It is for a public testimony and to demonstrate an attitude of obedience and your intention to obey the Lord’s commands from that time on.
Some Baptists would say this is the “one baptism.” The ones I have heard make this argument were local church only people. This can lead to the Baptist Bride belief and division in the faith.
The reasoning for this is as follows: If you believe the body of Christ is the local church and water baptism puts you into the local church, then water baptism puts you into the body of Christ. Since the body of Christ is also the bride of Christ.
Then they reason: The Rapture of the church/bride would only pertain to the members of a local New Testament Baptist church.
We would say: The people raptured are the saved, not the local church. (The word “church does not appear in I Thessalonians 4 although they would counter the book was written to a local church so it is implied.)
There are unsaved people who join local churches. Would they make unsaved people members of Christ? Some great men of God throughout history were not Baptist.
I’m going to stop there. You could write a book about this point, and some have. The bottom line is this: fellowship depends on how much the argument overtakes the persons trying to unify. Most of the time, in my experience, the local church only people don’t take it this far, and I have worshiped with such people without problems.
- I Corinthians 12:13 – This is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit that saves you. You are put into Christ and Christ is put into you (see the above section on salvation. Also see John 14:20). This is a good candidate for the one baptism. If you are saved and the person or group believes in salvation the same as you do, you are unified in this belief to start with. You can’t be unified in worship with anybody who doesn’t believe the same way about salvation.
As always, there are arguments among groups about the actual meaning of the phrase “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” Some would rather say “Holy Ghost”.
Some would link the baptism with the visual phenomenon found throughout the book of Acts (especially at Pentecost).
Some would solely connect it with the “charismatic” phenomenon and link it with an after salvation special experience that gives the person extra abilities like speaking in tongues and the ability for extra biblical prophesy. Those folks, by and large, go with Acts 2:38 as their water baptism of choice and (as a reminder) would say they were saved by that baptism.
Some would deny it altogether as a factor in anything.
Some would say it was limited to Pentecost.
I don’t really have a problem with fundamentalist people who argue this point as long as we can agree on what salvation is outside of making this point. This is part of the nuance of understanding the elements that are a part of salvation and not everyone who is otherwise sound gets it or has thought it through to this extent. I believe the Charismatics have gone off the deep end on this one. It is a source of constant argument and conflict. No unity in the bond of peace with those folks on this one.
- Lastly we return to Matthew 3:11. Notice you have 3 baptisms in the same verse. We’ve discussed 2 of them. The last one on the list of 7 baptisms is the baptism of fire. Some Charismatics erroneously link it with the baptism of the Spirit and assign it all kinds of asinine properties. The truth is, this is the baptism a sinner will get if he ISN’T baptized by the Spirit. It’s either Spirit baptism or baptism in Hell. Take your pick. I’ve heard people pray for this because they think it is linked to the events of Pentecost or with zeal, or power, or some such thing. Notice verse 12?
Verse 12 is the continuance of the thought: “Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” See the contrast? If you are part of the chaff, you will be baptized in fire for sure. I think it is safe to say, the baptism of fire is not the one baptism.
Note: nobody is sprinkled on the above list. The only babies baptized were the ones with the Children of Israel when they went through the cloud. OK, time to get out of this one. I’ve spent so much space on the subject of baptism, I hesitate to go into these things in a thorough manner. Let’s settle it by saying people who sprinkle and/or baptize babies are not people we usually unify with in worship and leave it at that. The people who do these things have committed many atrocities in the name of their religious beliefs over the centuries.
Verse 6 – “One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all and in you all.”
Do you believe that? Not so fast! We can only be unified if we agree on the “God”!
First of all, let’s discuss the people who do not:
Atheists – They contend there is no God, although some of them cop out and say super powerful aliens (that may as well be gods) did some of the things God is said to have done.
Agnostics – They say they are ignorant and can’t decide whether there is or isn’t a God (but some of them believe in the aforementioned aliens and some go off into spiritism and new age concepts).
Polytheists – They believe in more than one god. Some wouldn’t say “god” and use some other term for powerful spirits that you can interact with and that can interact with you.
Nature worshipers – Generally, they believe that the elements of the universe (especially the Earth) are alive down to the planet itself. There are primitive versions and there are new age versions. Listen to representatives of the so-called “green movement” for examples of how they believe. I’m painting with a broad brush here because the minute details of every small group of believers’ specific set of faith doctrines are almost as varied as the number of people that worship in this category. They also wield considerable political power worldwide at the moment, and you can blame some of the more ridiculous policies that have been enacted by various governments (like giving a river, pigs, and chimps human rights) on people of this bent.
Luciferians – These are people who believe Lucifer is a god to be worshiped. Of course, there are varieties of the error.
To some, Lucifer is equal to God and ruler of the dark side of existence which is coequal to the light side (kinda like the oriental yin and yang symbol you see in various places). This is popular in movies, T.V. shows, and other supernatural horror media. I’ve even heard Baptist ministers fall into this error. The earliest famous religion I know about that taught something like this was Zoroastrianism.
To some, Lucifer is Jesus’ literal brother who was punished for the sin of helping out fledgling mankind (kinda like Prometheus, the Greek Titan who is eternally punished by Zeus for giving mankind fire). To a Luciferians, Lucifer is a good guy and a benefactor of mankind while Jesus is a stick in the mud who tries to repress us.
To some, Lucifer is one of several gods who serve a purpose in the divine pantheon of layered deities.
There are folks that believe our God was once mortal like ourselves. Mormon Lorenzo Snow is famous for saying “as man is, God once was; as god is, man may become.” The idea that mortal men eventually become gods is a New Age concept as well although the terms used are different from group to group: it might be god, ascended master, or whatever – they do not hold to the God of the Bible. They attempt to demote Him and turn Him into just another one of the crowd, and usually a subservient one at that.
There are some that worship an actual Earth bound human as “god.”
The 60’s and 70’s were replete with cult leaders worshiped by their followers. Sex, drugs, and railing against “conventional morality” were memes of their day. You still see this kind of thing pop up from time to time, but they used to be almost cliché clones of one another.
Another aspect of this comes when rulers of governments declare themselves gods. This has gone on since ancient history (See Ezekiel 28:1-9 for a Biblical example). The latest one that I know of is Kim Jung Un, but it is a practice of venerable tradition including Pharaohs, Caligula, and the emperors of Japan.
Some people even worship celebrities (Elvis comes to mind). Don’t ask me why. I’ve never understood how some drugged up, sexually promiscuous, rebellious freak of nature can wield so much adoration. They don’t call them “idols” and “rock gods” for nothing, I suppose.
Unifying in worship with someone who believes another human being is a god? Ridiculous!
Romans 1:18-32 should be read at this point.
There are other gods springing up all the time. Some are revivals of gods worshiped in antiquity. Some are made a lot closer to our own day and age. Some are warped, unbiblical versions of our own God. We can’t unify in the bond of peace with any of them.
If God isn’t “above all and through all, and in you all”, he isn’t the real God (Acts 17:22-31: II Corinthians 13:5; Isaiah 45:5-7).
Why are these things important?
You don’t have to know every detail of cultish beliefs. You only have to know your own so that you can instantly see the differences between your faith and someone else’s (II Timothy 1:12-14). Don’t let the preaching and teaching you receive in our church be in vain.
You don’t need to know the ends and outs of every other faith system. You need to know the gospel solidly enough that you can use it to deal with them. If they can’t be led to Christ, you won’t persuade them by arguing with them using the “your system verses their system” argument. Believe me, I’ve tried. One time my pastor (from a church I used to belong to) asked me to help him in a debate he was trying to set up with some Jehovah’s Witnesses. I agreed, but only if, in reply to any question that was proffered, we turn the answer to the gospel of Jesus Christ as a response. The debate never happened, but that shows my personal feeling about it. The gospel is the first idea anyone has to accept before true progress can be made on the other major unifying factors.
You can’t possibly remember all the things about all the groups (especially when more offshoots are springing up all the time), so concentrate your memory toward remembering your own! When Lori and I were first married, we went shopping at our favorite grocery store one day and met a “Moonie.” I didn’t know they existed at the time. The young man approached us as we were parking our car and asked for a donation (I don’t donate money to just anybody. My local church usually needs money and I know how the money is spent. I don’t trust other groups or people). I asked him about the organization he was raising money for, and he said his organization believed in the family, sending out missionaries, and helping folks in need. At that point, I interrupted him and asked him what he and his organization thought of Jesus. He kind of stammered and asked what I meant.
I asked him if he believed Jesus Christ was born of a virgin, died on the cross for our sins, resurrected from the dead the third day, was received up to Heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father, and was coming again to reign on the Earth. . .There was a pause. . .Then, he started telling me that some guy named Moon had come from heaven as the third Adam to rectify Jesus’ failure because by dying on the cross, He had failed in His mission as the second Adam.
From that point on, I monopolized the conversation while I patiently explained that the cross was part of the plan of God from the beginning because it was the only way God could reconcile the world to Himself – that the blood of Christ was necessary or all of us would die and go to hell without hope. (I was using Scripture throughout to make the points.) As I spoke, the smile that had dominated his face until then began to fail him (I found out much later this was a sign his cultish programming had begun to fail).
Before I could get to the invitation, some other guy in his group ran over and dragged him away. When we finished our shopping, I looked for him, but I couldn’t find him. From the grocery store, we headed for Clarkin’s. When we got there, I saw him, parked hastily, got out and gave him a cheery greeting only to see a look of panic come over him followed by a quick get away at a dead sprint.
Folks! You don’t need to be a theologian. Know the Gospel. Use it. Accept no substitutions. It is both offense and defense against cults (and anyone else for that matter).
These split groups and people who would otherwise unify under Ephesians 4.
Convictions about certain beliefs (Biblical and not so much) cause a lot of division.
Some of these are physical separation issues such as slacks on women, mixed swimming, haircuts and the like.
Some of these are dearly held beliefs gleaned from Scripture, but not quite as settled as the Ephesians 4 majors.
Some of these are connected to the Bible itself: What Bible to use; what original language text is best; is it infallible and inerrant in its present form; how and with what system you interpret it, etc.
Is it right to separate over such things? Sometimes yes, sometimes no.
How’s THAT for dogmatic assurance!
The fact of convictions:
Some preachers have convictions that other preachers do not have. They even conflict in some cases. I talked to a man who was on deputation in preparation to go to Alaska some time ago. He went up to Canada to talk to a pastor there. They met over lunch at a local restaurant and for drinks the future missionary ordered coffee. The pastor ordered a beer. Awkward moment. While the American was trying to think of something to say about the beer, the Canadian, looking shocked himself, started rebuking him about the moral problems of drinking coffee. He went on and on about the problems with caffeine as a stimulant and its addictive qualities, etc. The American was flabbergasted then started in on alcoholic beverages and the problems therewith. Needless to say the meeting was less than successful. Both of these men were in agreement on the major issues we have discussed. They separated over convictions that differed even though both were based on Scripture (drunkenness, sorcery, strong drink, etc.).
There are convictions on dress, conduct, activities, and just about everything else you can think of that someone can point to in the Bible. My pastor growing up was Dr. Dallas Billington. He preached and published his convictions against alcohol, immodest apparel, dancing, movies, mixed swimming, showing disrespect to elders and parents and the law, and other things I haven’t heard much of since the early 70’s.
I listened to students talk about personal convictions when I was at Baptist Bible College. After watching carefully where those students ended up ministering, I came to the conclusion (admittedly based on anecdotal evidence) the students were headed to parts of the country where their personal convictions were the rule, not the exception. I think this was part of the Holy Spirit’s design: to make sure they could blend in so they didn’t cause problems with the minor things and could therefore spend most of their energies working on the major things. I don’t know if it still works like that. People don’t seem to be as convicted over the physical separation issues as they used to be.
One “minor” I personally believe should be elevated to a major is the Bible issue. This is because the only way you can be straight on every issue is by reading and studying what God has to say about it. In some ways that makes it THE major issue. Yet, to some it is a minor issue since their ideas have been codified by creeds and statements of faith and have subordinated all of Scripture into these codifications of the faith. They then mold whatever Bible they are using into these statements and creeds and make them the authority for faith and practice other than the Bible itself.
I believe the King James Bible to be the word of God in the English language. A lot of conservative Baptists do not. With a couple of exceptions, no professor I had at either B.B.C. or Tennessee Temple believed it (which lead to some lively debates on some issues). At that time, the Bible babble hadn’t really gotten into full swing in conservative circles so they all talked like people who derived their language and doctrine from the same source and they basically used the King James as the default source book. That was changing even as I went through.
The Bible babble is as good a reason as I can think of to get me to cast a wary eye on some speaker or writer who is lost in it. Never-the-less, some who put the King James in a preeminent place even though they may prefer something else in some cases (like Clarence Larkin or Dave Hunt) can still render valuable service to the body of Christ.
Too many modern writers have opinions they try to find Scripture to back up, instead of reading and studying to see what God actually says and wants. They take on the authority themselves to change whatever they need to in order to back up their own opinion. This is exactly wrong!
Political correctness has infected the church. Preachers avoid preaching on specific sins to avoid upsetting the state, their communities and their own corrupted congregations. There are hundreds of Bibles out there. People can and do find one or more that can get around God’s will and boost faith in the human and diabolical sides of any argument.
For those reasons and more, I think God simply implies the importance of the Book in Ephesians 4. It is an obvious thing that needs no debate. If there was no Bible, there would be no Ephesians chapter 4 to discuss.
Frequently debated doctrinal issues: Some things that don’t make it on the “major’s” list in Ephesians are never-the-less considered very important by people. No list I provide would be exhaustive, but a few examples are:
- “the Gap Theory” which promotes the idea that there was an indefinite period of time between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2.
- Whether or not the “sons of god” in Genesis 6 are fallen angels or the male line of
- Calvinism vs Arminianism (can you lose your salvation or not)
- Church hierarchy (definitions of jobs and what the jobs do)
- Et cetera.
You can generally tolerate someone who disagrees with you on some of these things. If you add strong convictions on any of them, whatever it is promoted to a major and used as a tool for separation.
Usually, the statement of faith should show you if the pastor of the church thinks of something so strongly, they see the necessity of including his take on the controversial doctrine as a “major.”
Personally, I’m kinda laid back on these kinds of issues. If I teach the Bible, I tell you what I know and what I believe. If someone disagrees with me, as long as the matter is not emphasized, I can live with it if everything major is agreed too. I think people travel much the same path when embarking on their spiritual journey to learn the Bible. A lot of these matters are simply the fact that the debaters are on two different points on the understanding curve and the issues can be solved if both sides agree on the authority of the Bible and will be willing to change their minds if shown the truth with the Holy Spirit’s help. This is one of the very few times in my life I stick my toe into the otherwise foreign water of optimism. So far it hasn’t worked out that way save in a few occasions, but I can always hope – as unreasonable as that hope may be in reality.
But cult? Not hardly. Do you realize that any church that is old enough to have multiple pastors have been exposed to multiple, sometimes opposing, and sometimes confusing convictions from different strong willed and strongly opinionated men? After a while the congregation listens to a sermon, chalks it up to one man’s opinion, and never waivers from his or her own opinions for one second. If you don’t believe that, you are very naive. If you are a pastor, there are a lot of things you will never know about your congregation, because your office is intimidating to them. Also, the congregation seems to instinctively understand the setup and working of the body of Christ better than any pastor I’ve ever worked with because a pastor wants to reshape the body to his own vision of what it should be instead of taking an honest look around with his spiritual discernment and working with the way it is actually put together. It’s the Holy Spirit that fits people into the body and gives them gifts and desires fit for the work He wants them to do. Oh well! You can’t solve all problems, I suppose.
II Timothy 1:12
We should agree with Paul’s personal statement: “For I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.”
One of the problems with Christians: They don’t know enough about their own faith to be confident about it. They don’t spend time in their own Bibles, nor do they seem to retain what they should be learning at church. That makes too many of them ripe for recruitment by false groups and leaders. One of the people I was acquainted with at the A.B.T. told me she was regularly listening to a false teacher on T. V.
When I pointed out this person was pretty far off the beam she said, “I like listening to him speak. He’s such a good speaker.” O.K. So he’s a good speaker. A lot of bad guys are good speakers. You’d better be able to judge whether the things coming out of his mouth are true and right and not just dressed in a pleasing preaching style. Bill Clinton was a good speaker, but his life is a mess. Hitler was a mesmerizing speaker and you know how that turned out!
Are you “persuaded that he is able…”? If not, there are plenty of others who are crowding the line to get to you. Matthew 7:13 says: “broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat.” Sometimes I think the broad way would have to be elastic and stretch wider and wider in order to accommodate the influx of new traffic lanes.
The wicked inventiveness of humans is truly amazing. We live in an age where “change” has gone from something cautious that one had to be wary of, to a full-throated battle cry for people charging into Hell.
The world has been given to change in spite of God’s warnings to the contrary (Proverbs 24:21; 22:28, etc.). Every single day I watch or read something that casts doubt on God’s ability to do anything on behalf of His people verses the horrendous problems that are all around us. Don’t buy into this. Nor should you accept anti-biblical solutions or try to escape from the problems by abandoning the Book.
The saved and the unsaved naturally see things differently, so don’t follow the lead of the unsaved! Follow God’s lead. It seems as if the people that call themselves “Christian” these days have given up on God and decided to abandon following Him and have taken matters in their own hand. Big mistake. Don’t let the world see you as a fellow agitator to the already troubled waters. Show them how you cling to the Rock which is Jesus Who abides solid in the midst for an anchor and a shelter.
I Peter 3:15; “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.”
“Sanctify the Lord God in your heart.”
Why do you have to do that? Well… What else is in your heart?
Your favorite things?
Sanctification is a separation for a Holy purpose. You can’t get Him confused with any other thing that might be jumbled around in there. He is unique and more precious than anything else. He should occupy a special place of honor in your heart that transcends all the other people, things or desires that are in there. He should drive your desires and actions or inhibit them if need be. He is your primary love, your cautionary tale, your wisdom and your direction. He is your way, your truth, and your life (John 14:6). Nothing and no one can be preeminent in your heart above Him.
“And be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.”
Biblical “hope” is not the same as worldly “hope.”
Worldly hope is a leap of emotion that contradicts reason or any other considerations. A person hopes because of a choice their heart makes that is not rational.
Biblical hope is a prophetic reliance on what the Bible says and a heartfelt belief that what the Bible says is going to come to pass will come to pass.
You are therefore saved by hope (Romans 8:24). See how it is related to faith?
I Corinthians 9:10 is using the gardening analogy the Lord frequently uses to illustrate the similarity between the physical act of farming and the spiritual labor that is enacted in the ministry. (I know that from reading the context starting in vs 7 through vs14.) Since God’s word does not return to Him void (Isaiah 55:10-11), and I believe that, then, I must believe when I preach it, teach it and use it in witness it will not be for nothing. Even if I don’t see the effect immediately, I know, because I believe what he says. There is or will be an effect. That’s hope in the Biblical sense.
Without the backing of Scripture, your hope isn’t Biblical hope – it is just worldly hope you are trying to transpose to pretend it is. Get that straight. Be honest with yourself. Don’t let your personal feelings and emotion take the place of Scriptures even if you are dealing with things and family that are precious to you.
“With meekness and fear”
Attitude goes a long way with God. I Peter 4:8 says “and above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitudes of sins.”
This is true for God. This should be true for His people.
This is where passages like Matthew 5:38-48; 6:14-15; 7:1-5 come in. You and I are not perfect, so we need to cut other people some slack and stop being so stuck up and “holier than thou” that we forget our own flaws.
Remember you are not to compare yourself with another human but compare yourself with Jesus Christ who is our standard of perfection (II Corinthians 10:12). Against His standard we all look bad.
Remember I Corinthians 12? All people aren’t you. Other people can have a legitimate part to play in the body of Christ that isn’t your part. Other people have a calling, gifts, and desires and talents that are given them by the Holy Spirit to perform what He needs them to perform. That may not conform to your calling, gifts, talents and desires. I’ve seen conflict in the body of Christ over this again and again. Stop thinking you are better than someone else just because your calling is to a different job. Be a full time Christian. Do your job and let God handle the rest. (Proverbs 3:5-6).
Differences in opinion should not a cult make. I’ve never worked under a pastor with whom I didn’t disagree in some things. Usually, I go to him and explain my disagreement. So long as we agree on the majors, I can sweat out the minors for the church’s sake. If it gets too testy, it’s time for me to move along (without splitting the church when I go). This has only happened a couple of times out of several pastors (I used to move around the country a lot). Be aware that you could be on the wrong side of the conflict. This is where looking at things from the standpoint of meekness and fear help’s out.
Observation: a cult, by its nature, does not encourage independence of thought or action.
If your pastor encourages you to read your Bible, and is encouraging you to find things out for yourself – that is not normally a cult situation.
Does your church squabble over various aspects of church maintenance, and decorations and the like? Congratulations! You are not in a cult situation. Cults have a tendency to get rid of free will.
When I was in college in the 70’s, I was accused of being in a cult by people I knew from work. I thought about it a bit. I came to the conclusion there was no way under Heaven an independent, Bible believing, Baptist church could ever be a cult or part of a cultish movement. Everybody fights too much. There are internal fights, external fights, church splits, Pastors getting upset and leaving, congregations firing the Pastor, individuals and families come and go at the slightest provocation, there are conflicting convictions, etc., ad nauseam.
I guess “in the bond of peace” must come after we’re in Heaven!